Snowboarder Bleiler reflects on thrills of Winter Games
For Gretchen Bleiler, snowboarding is 75 percent mental.
The four-time X Games gold medalist took the silver medal in Torino’s 2006 Olympics and set her eyes square on the gold for the 2010 Ladies Halfpipe in Vancouver.
“In the end, I know it’s really mental,” said Bleiler, 28, via landline from her hometown of Aspen. “But for some reason, I had this block in my mind.”
America saw it’s snowboarding sweetheart hit the wall of the half pipe and fall to the ground.
And while viewers might think Vancouver is a trail that Bleiler would like to leave behind her, it could not be further from the truth.
She had a victory of her own.
“I did the Crippler 7 bigger and better than I had ever done in the past two weeks,” said Bleiler.
Pre-Olympics, Bleiler was having major issues with this signature trick, in which the rider does a full 180-degree spin upside down in the air.
Rest that on top of fighting an illness and just one day of practice before show time, and there lay a potential recipe for disaster.
“For two weeks, I was dealing with not being able to do this trick correctly,” said Bleiler. “And in my head, I didn’t know if I was going to land that signature trick that sets you apart.”
Staring at the blanket of fresh, powdery snow covering the arch of the halfpipe, Gretchen took the plunge.
“Second run, I … just said, ‘I surrender. I’m going to do what I know how to do and go into it with as much ‘me’ as I can … and I did,” said Bleiler.
Despite nailing the Crippler 7, Gretchen left a tad early on her next trick, when she took the fall.
“It was obviously excruciatingly disappointing that she fell,” said Bleiler’s mother, Robyn Gorog. “It was a huge disappointment for her, but you would never have known it by her presence.”
With her signature smile nestled between for her winter-kissed, rosy cheeks, America also saw the grace with which Bleiler handled her 11th place run.
“When she fell, this little girl asked their mom, ‘Why is she smiling?’ and it was an opportunity for her mom to say, ‘You don’t always win, but it doesn’t take away from every single solitary thing she’s done in her life,’” said Gorog.
When asked if she has any regrets, Bleiler will advise you to look in the other direction, towards the sun, where her smile lights up the darkest Vancouver skyline.
“In the end, it’s about the way you handle the situation. Who you become – that’s the prize … that’s the medal.”
And who Bleiler has become extends far beyond the world of snowboarding, having fully immersed herself in her new clothing line for Oakley, the Gretchen Bleiler collection, an in-the-works skin care line for Mission Products, and a hands-on campaign for global warming awareness.
“When I first joined the Aspen Valley Snowboard Team, I had this coach who told me it’s not just about being really good on the mountain, but also doing everything you can off the mountain. That is sort of my work ethic,” said Bleiler.
For Gorog, this comes as no surprise.
“We moved to Ohio from Aspen when she was 11 and she was just dedicated. She wanted to learn,” said Gorog.
When she was 18, Gretchen weighed the pros and cons before deciding to defer college and pursue snowboarding.
“My take was you’re 18 years old and you can always go back to college,” said Gorog.
Instead of packing her world into a car as an incoming college freshman, Bleiler woke up at 4:00 a.m. every morning to work at a bakery and afterwards, would hit the powder.
“I’m so proud of myself for making that decision … I really believe that when you take risks … you learn so much and you end up growing no matter what,” said Bleiler.
Fast forward 10 years and Bleiler has held true to that mantra, even if it means giving up the gold.
“Sometimes, it’s not about the medals. It’s about … the small little victories.”